The Context for St. Paul's Letter to the Romans

I’ve been reading his epistle and a few things have popped up that I don’t know how to read nor interpret them. For reference, I’m reading and using the ‘RSV Catholic Edition’.


1:v26 - Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonouring of their bodies among themselves. (Same idea in verses 26 & 28)

This makes me think of when God hardened Pharaoh’s heart - I don’t understand what this means in its actual realisation. Does it mean that God said, ‘Yeah, do whatever you want. I’ve tried and tried again but you still disobey me. I don’t care enough to give you any more graces.’ I know that grace is a free gift, but is this verse pertaining to only the unbelieving pagans? Does it apply to Christians to? Does it mean that people who have lived this sort of a life for a long time cannot be converted anymore?


2:v9 - There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek,
v13 - For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.

How is this reconciled with the notion of salvation through faith and good works? The implication of this seems to be that good works is paramount and faith isn’t.


5:v13 - sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law.

This is the one that strikes me the most because it seems like the forgiveness offered by Christ once one believes is limited. That is to say that when Jesus told Peter to forgive his brother 70 x 7 times, that was on the basis that his brother was under the Law as a Jew (not a Christian); but once that person believes, forgiveness gets brought down to something closer to 7 times?

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In Catholicism man’s will is always part of the “equation“:
600 To God, all moments of time are present in their immediacy. When therefore he establishes his eternal plan of “predestination”, he includes in it each person’s free response to his grace: "In this city, in fact, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place."395 For the sake of accomplishing his plan of salvation, God permitted the acts that flowed from their blindness.396

And since man’s will is involved, God won’t override it-He’ll allow us to turn away from Him, to resist His grace, if we so desire. Sometimes this ends being a chastisement, resulting in repentance.

Man remains obligated to be righteous under the new covenant. Only some Reformed/Protestant theologies would dispute this, via their Sola Fide doctrine. But the correct understanding is that now, “under grace”, with a life lived in communion with God IOW, man may become the person he was created to be; God, alone can make man just, can justify us. And this occurs as we enter this union or partnership with Him via faith. So the most important New Covenant prophecy:

“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
No longer will they teach their neighbor,
or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the Lord.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.” Jer 31:33-34

This speaks of a direct and personal knowledge of God, who then accomplishes in us what cannot be accomplished by being “under the law”, which means to attempt to be righteous on our own as if we possessed righteousness apart from God. The following verses in Romans go far in spelling out how this works:
"Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live." Rom 8:12-13

To put it another way:
"Apart from Me you can do nothing." John 15:5

We become with Him via or through faith because faith reconciles or reestablishes relationship with the God from whom we were estranged at the Fall. Understood in this light many, many verses in Scripture such as the ones you referred to are clarified.

I’m not sure I understand the question but Jesus was speaking of not giving up on-of being ready to forgive-anyone.

St. Paul differentiates between sin and transgression. Transgression is a specific type of sin; it’s a violation of a revealed law. There is no transgression if no revealed law is violated. But that doesn’t mean there was no sin. St. Paul says, “sin indeed was in the world before the law was given”. It was not “counted” as a transgression, but sin nevertheless separated men from God, whether it was a violation of a revealed law or not.

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You are correct in being reminded of God hardening Pharaoh’s heart. By understanding that turn of phrase, you can come to understand this. Egyptians believed that the hardening of the heart happened at their judgement for the afterlife. According to the good deeds they enacted in their lifetimes, their heart would harden in the hands of Maat who weighed it against a feather. It would grow heavy if their bad deeds outweighed their good. So too, with the Jewish and then Christian understanding. The hardening of the heart is God calling the soul to judgement and to receive the consequences of his or her actions. Pharaoh’s heart was hardened not through God’s desire but through Pharaoh’s own deeds. St. Paul is framing v. 26 in the light of v. 25 in which their abandonment to their lusts is a result of their choice to sin.

It means that when man chooses to act, God allows the consequences of the act to naturally follow. Mercy and redemption goes above and beyond this natural justice.

Context is of paramount importance when reading St. Paul. In these verses, he is speaking to the Justice of God as an interlude to the topic of the Justice of God within the context of the Jewish Law. In the Law, works are regulated above all else. As he is speaking of the Law, faith is automatically assumed for no one would follow the Law without faith. Thus, he is speaking of the good works done within the context of faith.

This verse is in no way limiting the forgiveness of Christ. Jesus telling Peter to forgive his brother was not within the context of the Law. In that passage, Matthew uses the word ‘Church’ to specifically mean the followers of Christ as he was writing in Antioch to a mixed congregation of Jews and Gentiles. Instead, the Jew context only comes up after a sinner has been brought before the Church to be corrected and he still refuses. Then he would be cast out from the Church and treated like a Jew would treat a Gentile.

In the passage above, St. Paul was simply arguing against the position that God’s giving of the Law created sin. Instead, sin existed in humanity since Adam. As such, Christ’s redemption reached back in time to all sinners, even those from before the giving of the Law. The Early Church preserved this concept with the tradition of the Harrowing of Hell and Jesus’s descent to the dead to raise the faithful souls which had come before him into heaven.

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